Yosemite Trekker   Post #5 --- 7/4/09

Three riders in Cooks Meadow Cyclists cruise through Cook's Meadow 7/1/09

Bike Trek

On June 30th, I set off on an easy 6-mile sunset spin around Yosemite Valley.  The trip began at Curry Village, in that sprawling little hub precariously pitched at the base of the October 2008 rockslide.  A renovated public lounge opened here a few days ago, along with the new "front desk", where lodgers check in for their stay.  Previously they had to line up outside a dumpy trailer next to the rafting center.  


The amphitheatre on the back side of the lounge has also reopened, with movies and talks delivered each evening at 8:30 p.m. Just a stone's throw away, a series of tents and cabins along the hillside remain cordoned off by caution tape.  Geologists aren't sure what to do about the rockside threat here, so for now it's wait and see.




From Curry, I struck out west along the bike path that parallels Southside Drive, the road which brings all the car traffic into the park.  It's against the law to drive in the oncoming traffic lane, so you must either stick to route designated for bicyclists or travel with the traffic.  The shuttle bus drivers get irked when they see you horning in on their blacktop, so it's a good idea to stay out of their way.


Southside bike path --------  Shuttle over bridge

I pedaled about two miles, past the new housing area for park concession employees (below left), Housekeeping Camp (on the right) and the Sierra Club's Le Conte Memorial. 


New Housing ----- Housekeeping Camp


The Le Conte Memorial (below left) houses a comfy reading room with tons of books about Yosemite, including guides to flora and fauna, geology and trailheads in the park.  (It's all free and one section of the room is set aside for kids.) Aside from these habitations, the bike path offers a serene  and shaded trek through the woods, with the Merced River gurgling along to your right.


 Le Conte Memorial --------- Meeting dog outside Le Conte


About mile from Curry, you'll see Sentinel Bridge, where the bike path ends on the south side of the road and you have to cross to the other side.  There's a stop sign here, so you can't miss it. About 20 yards further, you'll reach Yosemite Chapel, the oldest building still standing in the park, built in 1879 and still going strong.   

Southside path with truck ----------  Yosemite chapel 


Behind the chapel you can pick up the trail to Bridal Veil Falls, a 4-mile trek that's popular with joggers.  (It's also the Times Square of mosquitoes in the park, so if you decide make the journey on foot, bring repellant or walk fast.)   An old paved surface survives beneath the pine needles, and joggers like the route because its flat. On the morning after my bike ride, I stumbled across a bear cub here.  I would have taken a photo of him, but I was too busy running for my life, knowing that mom was no doubt lurking nearby. This little woodland behind the church also popular with the deer community, including one I found stalking and then giving chase to a coyote.  I deduced there must be a backstory between these two.  But it was probably a grim tale, so I put it out of my mind and moved on.


coyote ----- Deer on road 


Continuing west, I saw Cook's Meadow to my right and glimpsed a breathtaking view of Yosemite Falls to the northeast.  The grassland here is abloom with wildflowers in June, although there weren't many varieties to speak of.  Evidently these fields were heavily farmed by the Ahwahneechees, who used the grasses for a thriving trade as basketweavers. 


fairy flower ---------------- yellow flower


About a half mile further down the bike path you'll see a parking area and bridge that crosses the Merced River.  On one side is a big beach where rafters pull out of the current during the day to soak up the rays and eat lunch.   On the bridge itself, I found an unlucky fisherman watching his limp line dangle in the water.  You can see down through the water to the sand, and there were a few coins glistening there but no trout   Looking skyward, you'll glimpse a nice panorama as the sun dips behind El Capitan and a shadow falls over the park.


riders crossing bridge ------- Yosemite Falls from river bridge 


On the other side of the bridge, I turned back east to begin my return leg of the trek.  I detoured off on a dirt path that wound closer to the river's edge and bypassed an unseemly looking employee residence set in the middle of the meadow.    Eventually I met up with the back path again and pedaled to the backside of the  suburban apartments pitched at the rear of Yosemite Lodge.  While a step down from the Ahwahnee, these apartments offer a much woodsier backdrop and less population per square inch than the sprawling acreage of Housekeeping Camp, Curry and the three Pines campgrounds on the eastern end of the valley.  If you want a little more peace and quiet when you visit Yosemite, stay at the lodge if you can afford it. 


detour on dirt path ------------- beach babe on the Merced


The bike path will eventually take you past a parking lot and turn right on Northside Drive, headed towards the base of Lower Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Village.  Since that part of the bike route is often clogged with tourists, I make another detour, navigating through the Lodge parking lot on the south side of the road, then moving through some dirt and up to a narrow bridge that spans the river.  After checking for traffic, you can cross this bridge and pick up more or less of path through sand and dirt.  (See the photo above with the shuttle bus.)  You can also stay legit with the park rangers and just use the bike-pedestrian bridge on the far side of the street.  On a quiet day it's a shady and picturesque littl jaunt between the lodge and Yosemite Village.




When you see the Lower Yosemite Falls busstop across the street, it's time to turn right on the bike path that strikes out again across Cook's Meadow and takes you back to Sentinel Bridge.  There are actually two bike paths here, the first one taking you to the other side of a little stream, where you'll find an old abandoned house with a rather elaborate stone chimney.  This must have been some kind of lodge in the past, or the home of the park superintendent, I'm not sure which.  When I was over there (the next morning), I found a ranger talking to a small group of visitors who looked placidly content sitting in the shade of some trees. 


boarded up house in meadow ------ ranger talking to group in shade

The second bike path south is actually the one you want.  This one takes you back to Sentinel Bridge, so if you get stuck at the abandoned lodge, look for a narrow, trampled area through some high grass.   This shortcut connects to the second paved route, and from there I veered east across the meadow. If you reach a wooden bridge with stone steps, you missed the fork on the bike path.  No worries.  Either way you'll end up back on the road to Curry Village.


Yosemite Falls from Cooks Meadow ------ riders leaving meadow


In the summertime, any twilight trek of five miles or more should start by about 6 or 7 p.m., so you don't end up groping your way home in total pitch black darkness.  If you're like me, you'll want to take a break halfway and go buy an ice cream or something at Yosemite Lodge. The National Park Service is miserly when it comes to streetlights in the park, a situation which even motorists with high-beams can find exasperating, bungling along in search of  their campsites after a last-minute run into the village for provisions.  Like the failure to provide adequate parking or take a serious stab at mosquito abatement in the populated areas, I sometimes wonder what those rangers are thinking about when they devise their master plans. 


On a positive note, last week I met up with a fellow journal/blog author during a trip up to Tuolumne Meadows along Tioga Pass.  Check out David's blog Tree in the Door's Fauna and Flora for some great wildlife and landscape photography, as well as the latest news on what's ticking in Yosemite.  There's also a new photography exhibit opening on July 9th at the Ansel Adams Gallery here in the valley.  It runs until August 19th. See the gallery website for more details.



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